⇒“This story isn’t a police procedural. It’s not a legal thriller. Is it a cautionary tale? We think it is – but we wish it weren’t.” -A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler ⇐
**Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
(4.06 stars – Goodreads rating)
Genre: Fiction / Adult Contemporary
Publication Date: March 10, 2020, by St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 279 (Kindle version)
Who can say what might have been? We’re only here to tell you what was.
You’ve seen them before – the emotional book reviews where readers own up to weeping over the plot or over the death of a beloved character (which often has the opposite effect on me – making me angry instead of weepy). The criers. They admit to crying in private, in public, whenever and wherever the emotion strikes them. I am not a crier.
I may have read the same book, but didn’t have the same reaction. Is it jealousy that I’m feeling? Could be. Only a very, very few books have ever made me cry (one of which was The Shack, where I sobbed uncontrollably during my lunch break at work and almost got sent home for the day.) Books have a magnificent way of tugging on our emotions in various ways. We laugh, we get angry, we are afraid, and, yes, some of us cry. I’ll let you read the blurb and then we’ll talk about my reaction to this new release.
In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door―an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.
Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he’s made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn’t want to live in Oak Knoll? With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.
Told from multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today―What does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don’t see eye to eye?―as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.
…it’s in the telling of a tragedy that we sow the seeds – we hope – of prevention of future sorrows.
The first thing I absolutely loved about A Good Neighborhood is the omniscient third person narration. This is your all-knowing neighbor who lives next door. I have one, and you probably do too – even if you don’t know about her, she knows all about you! This neighbor has seen all and knows all about everything that’s going on in the Oak Knoll subdivision. She guides us through the events of the story by dropping loaded hints from chapter to chapter with a sympathetic voice, and giving us deep-dives into each of the main characters’ lives.
We also get parts of the story from the POV of the individual characters. It makes the story even more well-rounded and meaningful for readers. The author mentions in the acknowledgments that she really did her homework to be able to accurately represent the diverse characters in the story. And, for the most part, I think she did an admirable job.
No one can be known by only what’s visible.
The next thing that I love is how the author develops each of the characters so steadily and with such care that, even if you’re not quite sure about them yet, you’re invested. So, we’ve got a compelling story, a dramatic narrator, and completely engaging characters, but this story… y’all. It had me hooked from the first chapter all the way through to the epilogue. I’m not a fast reader, but I finished this book in one day – another rarity for me. It was that addictive.
OK, so what does any of this have to do with crying? Well, I’ll tell you. The characters, development, and circumstances of this story progress in such a way that you hear the whistle far in the distance long before you witness the train wreck. And you can’t look away. By the time the story hits its apex, it is such an inevitable disaster that the tears were rolling before I could even consider biting them back. I cared about what was happening to these families, and when it got ugly, I couldn’t bottle up the emotion. I guess it’s injustice that makes me weepy!
Lawsuits aren’t exactly loving. Even if they’re right.
This book is gripping, the story in entirely relevant to events of today (without being preachy), and it is written so well that I was completely engulfed in the lives of these five people and how their interactions set the stage for events that played out like a 10 pm network drama.
I was already familiar with Therese Anne Fowler from her book A Well-Behaved Woman, which I also rated highly. She is a thoughtful, descriptive writer who ushers you in, offers you tea, ad invites you to stay a while. So you do, and you end up not regretting one single moment.
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Therese Anne Fowler
(Pronounced ta-reece) is a New York Times and USA Today best selling author whose novels present intriguing people in difficult situations, many of those situations deriving from the pressures and expectations of their cultures as well as from their families. -bio from Thereseannefowler.com